UofL geoscientists take the city by storm
Your smartphone beeps a warning followed by a call from the National Weather Service notifying you of another severe thunderstorm in your area. Powerful storms with damaging winds, heavy rains, and flash flooding: you know the drill. What used to be a rare occurrence now seems commonplace. Both anecdotal and scientific evidence indicate there are significant changes to weather patterns as a result of climate change. But can where you live relative to an urban core impact the severity of weather? Professors Dave Howarth and Jason Naylor (Geography & Geosciences) think so.
Get this: The National Weather Service issues more severe thunderstorm warnings for eastern Louisville than any other part of the city, with weather models showing storms strengthening as they move over downtown. This phenomena seems to be true for other metropolitan areas as well. The possible cause? The urban heat island effect or UHI.
Howarth and Naylor, along with research coordinator D.J. Biddle and undergraduate students Logan Twohey and Brandon Ryan, seek to understand UHI on weather patterns. An urban heat island describes when the temperature of the urban area is warmer than its surrounding rural areas. Scarce vegetation, impervious surfaces, and the use of dark, heat-absorbent building materials are just a few of the reasons why downtown Louisville can be up to ten degrees warmer than surrounding areas. Elevated urban temperatures increase energy demand and costs, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. And as it turns out, they may also impact a storm’s intensity.
To test this theory, the research team is deploying thirty Davis Vantage Pro-2 weather stations around Jefferson County to collect data on temperature, humidity, wind speed, and precipitation. Their aim is to identify how UHI impacts the structure and intensity of thunderstorms which, according to Naylor, could “help forecasters issue more timely and accurate severe weather warnings around cities like Louisville.”
Understanding the spatial distribution and magnitude of the urban heat island could also identify areas most vulnerable to heat-related injury, helping policymakers protect the public during heat waves. “Hopefully we can continue to provide information relevant to public health issues to the Mayor’s Office and other policy makers,” Howarth says.
To help make climate research like this possible, go to uofl.me/give-geo.